Roasting and Toasting

Garcetti getting the better of Gold

Today’s guest blogger is Matthew King, Heal the Bay’s director of communications.

Parting can be such sweet sorrow, the Bard once aptly noted.  But speakers at a recent farewell roast of Mark Gold seemed to relish dishing out more sorrow than sweetness to Heal the Bay’s just departed president. As the sun set gently over Mark’s beloved Bay, more than 200 friends, family members, current and former staffers, board members, environmental leaders and elected officials gathered at The Beach Club in Santa Monica to send him off to his new gig at UCLA.

Mark escaped being doused in a dunk-tank (thanks to an innovative last-minute fundraising plea to gathered guests), but he couldn’t escape the pointed darts hurled by some of the city’s most influential leaders. He definitely took some ribbing about his hyper-zealous advocacy, wonky-nerdiness and need to always be the brightest bulb in the room.

Eric Garcetti, a veteran member of the Los Angeles City Council, described Mark as the “poop in the ocean guy” who “speaks acronym, not English.” He recounted his utter disappointment about Mark’s reaction to the council enacting a difficult piece of environmental legislation. “He’s always sitting on that high horse. And after you did 90% of the things he asked you to do, then he’d turn around and yell at you about the 10% you didn’t!”

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A Wave of Memories, Part 4

A final installment of Mark’s memories of Heal the Bay, with the “Baywatch” babes

Pop culture  HtB’s involvement in popular culture has always been memorable.  From “Baywatch” to KTLA’s Coastal Cleanup Day specials, we ended up in the more popular media in a lot of ways.  Who could forget “The Solution,” a benefit CD with Bad Religion, Blink 182 and Black Eyed Peas contributing tracks?  Evidently nearly everyone — it didn’t sell much.  In the movies, we had our star turn in the thriller “Cellular” starring Kim Basinger, Jason Statham and Chris Evans.  The kidnapping occurred on the pier during a Heal the Bay “benefit.”  The band was supposed to be Incubus, but they had a conflict.  HtB also showed up on an exploded bus billboard in “Speed” and a billboard in the John Cusack end-of –the-world  saga “2012.”  And I lost track of the number of fishbone HtB cameos in TV shows, from “thirtysomething” to “Hannah Montana” to “Modern Family.”

Malibu  So much work.  So much contention.  Yet there is no way to walk away from fighting for that incredible coast. One memory: “Surf Doctor” Jeff Harris setting up a PSA shoot at Malibu Lagoon with Mel Gibson.  The focus was on the impacts of Tapia’ summer discharges on Malibu Lagoon and Surfrider Beach.  I have never seen anyone more agitated in my life.  The guy was being stalked by the paparazzi  — helicopter overhead and guys behind bushes.  This was a real “Conspiracy Theory” They were out to invade his privacy.  On the good news side:  the Regional Board ordered Tapia’s discharge out of Malibu Creek from April through October, a major boon to Surfrider’s water quality because the lagoon berm breached less frequently.

Bravery  I’ll always remember the courage of the volunteers that gave Heal the Bay everything they had even when they were fighting cancer.  Jean Howell and Bob Hertz for Speakers Bureau.  Joe Crocker, our first board treasurer.  And of course, Dorothy.

Heroes  Finally getting to see my idol, Jacques Cousteau, speak about saving the oceans. It was at a Marina del Rey chamber of commerce lunch. I took Mark E Pollock.  It was surreal. Cousteau was wearing a powder-blue leisure suit and he stood on bright green Astroturf.

Science!  I’ve always been partial to hiring very strong technical staff for the science and policy department. At one time, we had four doctorates (all UCLA Environmental Science and Engineering grads):  myself, Mitzy Taggart, Craig Shuman and Shelley Luce. One Shelley story stands out. She was our science and policy director and she applied for the executive director position for the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission. I encouraged her to apply, but I was majorly concerned about losing such a valuable staff leader. The search committee included David Nahai and myself. We thought that the lead candidate, the highly experienced and extremely bright Nancy Sutley, would get the job in a heartbeat. After all she had recently left the state Water Board and Cal-EPA assistant secretary position. For some reason, Nancy wasn’t on her game during the interview, and Luce blew us away and got the job, where she’s flourished ever since. Sutley became Mayor Villaraigosa’s deputy Mayor for energy and environment and is now serving in the Obama adminsitration as the director of the President’s Council of Environmental Quality. It worked out for the best for all of us.

Smart propositions  The fight for clean stormwater led to the successful Prop O (Los Angeles) and Measure Y (Santa Monica) funding measures.  For the $500 million Prop O, I remember enviro groups and engineering firms pulling together under the leadership of Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry to make it happen.  And the measure passed with over 76% of the vote! Now that was a fun celebration.  Of course none of this would have happened without then Chief Legislative Analyst Ron Deaton’s decision to draw up the measure and go for it.  The Measure V success was a little different.  Craig Perkins convinced councilmembers like Bobby Shriver and Richard Bloom to push for the ongoing stormwater funding measure to reduce Bay runoff pollution and reduce flood risk and increase local water supply.  The integrated approach and ongoing funding was great.  The decision to make me campaign chair and plaster my ugly mug all over direct mail campaign pieces was really uncomfortable.  Measure V only passed by 100 votes.

Fishy business  During the height of the state and federal government’s natural resources damages lawsuit and the EPA’s Superfund enforcement actions, Heal the Bay undertook a fish contamination study on white croaker sold in local markets.  Staffer James Alamillo led the effort along with chemist Rich Gossett, and we found that locally sold croaker was highly contaminated: one fish had a concentration of DDT over 30 parts per million!  Talk about hazardous to your health.  As a result, the study was used by the government in its enforcement case.  Heck, the polluters even hired renowned UCSB  ichthyologist Milton Love to redo our study.  Since the contaminated croaker was largely found at Asian community markets, the Center for Biological Diversity actually sued those markets for supposedly knowingly selling croaker after the release of our study,  a Prop 65 violation.  We never predicted that litigious outcome, and we even got deposed on the case.  Due to the threat of third party litigation, the local white croaker fishery ended up closing down.

No seismic shift  Even an earthquake last year during a joint Heal the Bay-NRDC plea to the EPA office of water for more protective beach water quality standards couldn’t shake up the status quo in Washington D.C.  The recently released draft criteria are weaker in many ways than the 1986 criteria despite the completion of dozens of studies in the beach water quality microbiology and epidemiology fields.

Ballona  The fight for the future of Ballona has gone on for over 30 years. I remember the proposal from former councilwoman Pat Russell that would have destroyed the wetlands. In response to public uproar, Ruth Galanter got elected as the Save Ballona candidate. Poring over reams of Playa Vista EIR documents and design specifications for the freshwater treatment marsh was enormously time consuming and tedious. But the turning point was the environmental group debates leading to the state purchase.  Areas A and B, the main wetland, were for sale and California had the bond money to buy it. Governor Davis’ days were running out because of the recall, so those in favor of the wetland purchase had to act fast. Environment Now hosted a series of meetings where the environmental community was split between buying the wetlands for the exorbitant price of $150 million, or opposing the purchase. The opposition didn’t want to pay more than $8-10M for the wetlands. The opponents were concerned that the extra revenues would enable Playa Vista to finish their development (Phase I was largely completed at that point.) After heated discussions, some of us (NRDC, Heal the Bay and Friends of Ballona to name a few) expressed our strong support for the purchase. I remember saying, “30 years from now, our kids won’t care what we paid for Ballona Wetlands. They’ll just care that they exist and they are preserved.” Luckily, this sentiment prevailed with Mary Nichols, the Secretary of Resources at the time.

The Staff of Life  Watching Alix Hobbs grow from an 18-year-old receptionist to Programs Director to the Associate Director of the organization. Seeing Meredith McCarthy go from a Coastal Cleanup Day coordinator to the Programs Director and a force for greening L.A.  Admiring the growth of a couple of UCSB Bren graduates into the water quality director, Kirsten James, and the coastal resources director, Sarah Sikich They’ve become environmental leaders locally and in Sacramento.  Receptionist Gabriele Morgan greeting me every day, usually with a bad pun or a political joke. Callers to Heal the Bay have been heard the soothing tones of Gabriele’s voice for a long time.  I’ll miss her voice, but not nearly as much as her biting commentary. Matt King, the best communication director in the business, constantly drawing on obscure film, news and sports references.  Kudos to Vicki Wawerchak, who has progressed from being a Key to the Sea educator to ably running our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, a community asset beloved by children and parents alike. I’m thankful for having a decade of Karin Hall as Heal the Bay’s No. 2 – helping to build the aquarium, keeping the board engaged and managing staff.  Lee Myers sharing stories of the trials and tribulations of raising three kids while healing the Bay.  And James Alamillo, Big Game James, my closest friend on staff, providing innovative ideas and providing a quick critique, and always there in an emergency or when you want to kill some time talking about sports. I will miss you guys!

A Wave of Memories, Part 3

Dr. Aliza pinch hitting for Mark at a Beach Report Card presser

Beach Report Card  Most of the best BRC stories aren’t mine, but I have a few.  I remember sitting down with my first staff hire, Roger Gorke – now with the EPA office of water in D.C. —  to create the first report card.  It was an annual study and only included Santa Monica Bay beaches.  The early report cards often resulted in irate calls from electeds that somehow blamed us for their poor water quality.  We had many press conferences with Dr. Aliza (Lifshitz) providing a medical perspective and talking to the Spanish language media.  One year, she had to carry the whole press event at Cabrillo Beach because I literally had no voice!  James Alamillo and Mike Grimmer have taken the BRC through many incarnations, but the efforts of former Microsoft exec Jeff Littrell and former staffer Tom Fleming in making the leap to a statewide report card on the website was huge!  Amy Smart has come through as a spokesperson for the Beach Report Card, Annual Dinner, Day Without a Bag and Coastal Cleanup Day. I’m so glad Heal the Bay is honoring her at the annual dinner on May 17 this year.

The shark-fin sales ban campaign  Meeting with state Sen. Ted Lieu with Sue Chen, Yue Rong, Guangyu Wang, Donna Chen and our own Sarah Sikich.  We got nowhere and Sue Chen of Shark Savers was so peeved about giving away her two favorite shark puppets (Tiger and Hammerhead) to Lieu for his children.  Reading my brother Jonathan’s op-ed, one of the best pieces he’s ever written.  Watching in awe the work of Jennifer Fearing and the Humane Society.  The joy of getting the call when the bill was signed last year.

Starstruck  An event at a Santa Monica bar where rock  Hall of Famers John Densmore and Ray Manzarek from the Doors made a generous donation, and The Surfers (Kelly Slater, Peter King and Rob Machado) played in front of an enthusiastic crowd including Pamela Anderson.

My dissertation research on pathogens in stormdrain runoff and the fate and transport of runoff plumes on the beach.  It never would have been possible without dozens of volunteers collecting samples during all sorts of conditions, support from the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project, and the analytical efforts of L.A.’s Environmental Monitoring Division, and virologist  Charlie McGee and his crew at the Los Angeles and Orange County Sanitation Districts.  The research demonstrated that human sewage was getting into stormdrains, which led to the first-ever epidemiology study on swimmers in runoff contaminated waters. The study demonstrated that people that swim at runoff polluted beaches were far more likely to get sick.  These results were the catalyst for AB 411,  a state bill that established California beach water quality standards and a beach monitoring and reporting program.

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A Wave of Memories, Part 2

A hare-brained idea: having Gov. Gray Davis get up close and personal with the invertebrates at Heal the Bay's S.M. Pier Aquarium

Mark shares some more of his more memorable moments at Heal the Bay:

The Ahmanson Ranch campaign.  I remember: touring the watershed with Board President Tony Pritzker and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, representing Washington Mutual.  Flying up to a WaMu shareholders meeting with Rob Reiner and Alfre Woodard on a private jet to protest the development.  The coalition of Hollywood (Chris Albrecht and Reiner), electeds, Native Americans, Mary Weisbrock and Save Open Space, Heal the Bay (Mark Abramson’s covert maps of Ahmanson Ranch riparian habitat were key), and the brilliant campaign work of Chad Griffin and Steve Barkan.  Getting screamed at by Reiner at a meeting.  The only other person that ever yelled at me like that was my dad.  I can only imagine what would have happened if we lost! The anti-climactic press event celebration when the state purchased the land (Governor Davis was being recalled).  The joy of taking my kids, Zack, Jake and Natalie, to the Ranch just days after it opened to the public.

Litigation  I’ve always been a “sue as a last resort” kind of advocate, but sometimes litigation is the only solution.  NRDC’s Joel Reynolds and I spent countless hours with former L.A. County Sanitation Districts’ GM Jim Stahl to settle the full secondary treatment lawsuit about the Carson plant.  Once we got through the “sewage is good for the fish arguments” (thank you Willard Bascom of the Southern California Coastal Waters Research Project in the late 1980s) and the “sewage solids are needed to cover up the DDT and PCB contaminated sediments” or “two wrongs make a right” argument, we were able to negotiate a resolution quickly.  In fact, it only took the Sanitation Districts four years to build its full secondary facilities.  Also, we partnered with NRDC on some industrial waste litigation and an industrial stormwater lawsuit against the Port of Long Beach (led by current criminal court judge Gail Ruderman Feuer).  I still remember all the inspections of pretty nasty Port facilities.

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S.M. Does the Rights Thing

The Santa Monica City Council unanimously supported a resolution last night affirming individual environmental rights to clean air, water and soil, sustainable water and food supplies, and a climate unaltered by anthropogenic impacts.  Nearly 40 speakers ranging from high school and college students to environmental activists from Northern California spoke in support of the sustainability bill of rights.

The resolution, crafted by Santa Monica city staff in response to a draft ordinance recommended by the city’s Task Force on the Environment, commits the city to come back this summer with recommended legal changes to allow individuals to protect those rights.  Although the council vote only approved a resolution instead of a legally enforceable ordinance, the action puts the city on track to a process that provides individuals defensible environmental rights and extends protective rights to local natural resources.

Last night was a first step towards changing the dialogue on environmental protection in Santa Monica, and hopefully that shift in dialogue will move far beyond the city’s borders. The recommended legal changes to Santa Monica law will come to the city council at the same time as the third iteration (and third decade) of goals and metrics under Santa Monica’s Sustainable City Plan. We could see a draft as early as mid-summer.

We all have the right to clean air, water and soil, and corporate rights should never supersede these rights.  The time is now to move from just voluntary intentions to making these sustainability goals legal, enforceable obligations.


A Wave of Memories

Dorothy and Jack: mentors, friends ... and thwarted wedding photographers

I started volunteering at Heal the Bay as a 22-year- old in 1986.  Over the last 25 years, I have some amazing memories.  Here is an extremely abridged list of a few of the most memorable.

 My first hearing at the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.  L.A. County San’s general manager, Chuck Carry, chewed my head off publicly for stating that the Carson Plant was violating the Clean Water Act’s sludge dumping prohibition by discharging centrate (the liquid removed from centrifuged sludge) off of Palos Verdes. After the Regional Board ruled that Heal the Bay was right, wise and kindly board member Chuck Vernon came over to me to offer support for hanging in there against Carry.  Definitely a Mean Joe Green-Coke moment.  That was the first of my over 200 Regional and State Water Board meetings.

Heal the Bay’s annual meetings  At one meeting, U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson and Attorney General John Van De Kamp, two of the three gubernatorial candidates in 1990, gave plenary talks.  Wilson announced for the first time that he would create Cal-EPA if he was elected.  He won the seat and he did just that.  Other annual meetings included a Senate environmental debate between eventual winner Barbara Boxer, Congressman and Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project founder Mel Levine, and Lt. Governor Leo McCarthy, and an L.A. mayoral environmental debate with every candidate but the eventual winner, Richard Riordan.  I still remember then-Councilman Nate Holden stating that he’d make Santa Monica Bay drinkable if he was elected.

Surfboard Art — one of the most creative, amazing events in non-profit group history.   The brainchild of Olympic swimmer John Moffat, the project gave America’s top artists a Clark Foam blank that they could decorate as they saw fit.  The creativity of Board member Cydney Mandel and the leadership of the Dill brothers were key.  Boards were created by Lita Albuquerque, Laddie John and Guy Dill, Joni Mitchell, Peter Max, and Ed Moses.  But despite a show in the Corcoran Gallery and other locales, it was a horrible fundraiser because the boards were raffled off rather than auctioned off.

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Son of Westwood

Gold: heading back to school

After spending more than half of my life at Heal the Bay, I’ve decided to move on and test the waters in academia at my alma mater, UCLA.  The decision to step down as president of Heal the Bay was one of the toughest decisions of my life.  I’ve put my heart and soul into this place and most of my closest friendships are with staff, board, volunteers and colleagues. 

As an organization, Heal the Bay has accomplished so much in the last 26 years.  No one can say that our local coastal waters are more polluted or that our coastal resources are less protected than they were when the organization started in 1985.  Coming to work every day to work on improving everyone’s quality of life in the region, and protecting aquatic life was the best job I could realistically imagine. (I hope Vin Scully will always have the best job I could unrealistically imagine holding). My decision to step down marks a mid-life crisis of sorts. For the last five years, I’ve been obsessed by thoughts that I could have a larger beneficial impact in the environmental field.  My experience as an an Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Catto Fellow made me think a great deal about the future and having larger impact.

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L.A. Bag Ban Sends Strong Message

Will L.A. bag ban finally spur Sacramento to action?

The Los Angeles City Council’s energy and environment committee today approved an action asking for a Chief Administrative Officer-Chief Legislative Analyst report on a single-use bag ban within 30 days. Also, the Bureau of Sanitation must implement a public outreach program over the next 60 days.

Immediately after the committee meeting, the city council met to celebrate outgoing president Eric Garcetti’s long-term leadership. After Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue and the rest of the festivities, the council heard the bag-ban item.

Councilmember Paul Koretz amended councilmember Jan Perry’s E+E committee motion by including a March 31 deadline for final ordinance approval. In addition, public outreach and environmental review will all occur in parallel and will start immediately.

Nearly all of the present councilmembers strongly expressed their support for a plastic bag ban as soon as possible. Once again, the environmental community, neighborhood councils, the California Grocers Assn. and the L.A. Chamber of Commerce came out to support.

The council action today sends a loud message to Sacramento to move forward with a statewide ban. A continued patchwork quilt of various bag bans doesn’t make sense for the economy or for the environment. With the city of L.A. and its 4 million residents moving forward without plastic bags, the future of California could be truly plastic-bag free within the next year or two.

L.A. City Council Vote, Not in the Bag … Yet

A historic vote to bag single-use bags in L.A. is set for Friday at City Hall.

The Los Angeles City Council heard testimony from over 60 people today on the long-awaited single-use plastic bag ban.  The environmental community was well represented and attired in natty green.  Other supporters included reusable bag manufacturers, the California Grocers Assn., the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, and 17 neighborhood councils!  Clearly, a life without single-use plastic bags is a popular movement that has grown well beyond L.A. County, Long Beach, Malibu, Santa Monica, Calabasas and other SoCal cities.

Opposition was provided by bag man Stephen “This bag is more than a toy” Joseph and Crown Poly bag manufacturing staff.  Joseph tried to tie the city council vote to California’s ranking by industry titans as the place they’d least likely want to do business.  I’m not sure where the ranking came from, but Joseph did say that Texas was No. 1.  Enough said.

Thanks to a prior commitment to the environmental community from Council President Eric Garcetti, the City Council heard the testimony. However, members were uncomfortable taking action without the bag ban first going through the Energy and Environment Committee.

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Paper Bites Dog Story

Instead of dog beaches, the L.A. Times should focus on more far-reaching environmental issues.

The Los Angeles Times editorialized today that mutts should be given a chance at a pilot Santa Monica dog beach. Last week I spoke with editorial writer Carla Hall for 45 minutes on why the dog beach would be a bad idea for public health protection, environmental compliance, and the preservation of endangered and threatened wildlife. Unfortunately, her mind seemed clearly made up. Even suggestions for Hall to hang out at our local dog park for a few hours fell on deaf ears.

Clearly, science and credible opponents (state parks, lifeguards, NRDC and others) didn’t tip the scales for her. Idyllic visions of Fido frolicking in the surf were too compelling. 

I can’t say I was surprised by today’s piece.  But in light of all the facts, I had hoped she might support a recommendation for an enclosed dog beach away from endangered wildlife and away from the intertidal zone. But she stuck to her original position.

But there’s something more disturbing than the L.A. Times taking a position in favor of dog beaches despite environmental and public health concerns. What’s troubling is its failure to adequately cover more important environmental issues in the editorial or news sections.

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